My nightly craft is winged in white/A dragon of night-dark sea

I’m in the middle of a reread of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong and Dragonsinger. Dragonsinger is very much one of those books that, while on the surface about music–Menolly, the protagonist, is a young musician who’s just gotten the chance to train professionally, essentially, after earlier being told she had no right to play at all–is really about pursuing any art.

Dragonsinger falls a bit more strongly toward believing that artists are somehow a little different than others, something I’m not convinced of. But mostly it gets things right, and there’s one thing I noticed this time that I hadn’t really before: Menolly is a bit self-depreciating about her music at first, because she’s been told for so long it wasn’t worth much. So when she also claims her music isn’t very good, and keeps pointing to all the things she needs to learn–in earlier readings I thought it unwarranted modesty, a lack of acceptance of her own skill.

But this reading, I think I get it more: Menolly isn’t modest because she fails to accept her own skill. She’s modest precisely because of that skill–she’s so good, she can see all she has to learn, while a lesser musician, who couldn’t see all Menolly can, would be more likely to accept his playing as pretty good. Menolly’s modesty isn’t a denial of her skill; it’s a direct consequence of it.

I find myself pondering now whether believing without reservation that you’re good at a craft is beginner territory, and whether doubts–or at least a sense of still having a lot to learn–is a sign of having gained some amount of skill, rather than of lacking it.

Dragonsinger is also very much about how even when you have things to learn, though, that doesn’t mean your work lacks merit, or can’t be enjoyed even in its imperfect state–or that those imperfections will always even get in the way of what the work is trying to do. Which is something Menolly does still have to learn: that her work may not be perfect, that she may have things to learn, but that doesn’t mean her current creations are unworthy of being loved by others.

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